Pluralism Is Necessary For The World’s Collective Survival

Dr. Mike Ghouse   February 24, 2018   Comments Off on Pluralism Is Necessary For The World’s Collective Survival

Two decades ago, the word Pluralism was resented by the conservatives and right-leaning men (mostly) representing different faiths.  I was consistently attacked for propagating what pluralism is – it is simply an attitude of respecting the otherness of others and never giving up one’s culture, religion or politics, instead, we remain who we are but work together acknowledging our uniquenesses.

I am pleased to report that after two decades pluralism is being accepted. For a long time, Harvard University, Aga Khan and your friend have produced a lot of literature on pluralism. At the Center for pluralism, we have expanded the meaning of Pluralism in Religion to politics, society, culture, and cuisine.

And today, I am so happy to read the following article by Faryal Baloch on pluralism. Well written piece.  Pluralism is the panacea to the world problems.

She writes, “Pluralism in societies or one may say a religious society doesn’t mean to eradicate the differences or smooth things up under one canopy. Pluralism specifically means to reinvent the ways of living, arguing, connecting and disagreeing in a society of differences and inequality. It’s always dangerous to keep discussing and complicating the “religious identities “and “religious violence” which often derail our understandings about the concept of pluralistic societies. Religion is everywhere. The much-needed pluralism is necessary to bridge the gaps between different cultures and religious worlds.

Mike Ghouse

Courtesy of Dunya News, Multan

Embracing Pluralism Is Necessary For The World’s Collective Survival

The past decades have raised a question about two important challenges around the globe.  The first challenge is “religious extremism” and other one is “religious pluralism”.  The first challenge has been widely discussed. It is a popular topic of many scholars and think tanks. Religious extremism can be summed up in two simple words, fundamentalism and violence. Extremist acts always manage to seize the headlines around the globe. The consequences are much damaging leading to polarizations and instability. We are moving towards stories about violence rather than moderate voices. This is worrisome. Globally religious violence occurs on a daily basis. Extremist groups kill people from other religions and they kill people from their own religion, who they accuse of not being obedient to their religious values, or not being conformists, or even people who are just at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s hatred. It’s power play. It’s warfare.

Mark Juergensmeyer, an American scholar talked about this religious extremism in a very sane way. He gave different perspectives on this much talked issue of religious extremism. He argued that “Not all religiously based violence is done by fundamentalists. Sometimes, in fact, religion is used as a justification for violence by people and groups not specifically religious”. Another valid point he made is about the symbolic and supreme conflicts. He says “[Religious violence] has much to do with the nature of the religious imagination, which has always had the propensity to absolutize and to project images of cosmic war. It also has much to do with the social tensions of this moment of history that cry out for absolute solutions, and the sense of personal humiliation experienced by men who long to restore an integrity that they perceive as lost in the wake of virtually global social and political shifts”. Additionally, for future concerns he suggests that “the cure for religious violence” is “in acknowledgement of religion in public life”. A quite different approach one must say.

After much heavy debates of decades,we are still left with the questions that how religious fundamentalism condones violence. Dr. Laurence Innaccone, who is the president of Association for Study of Religion, Economic and Culture (ASREC), discusses that “Violence should be attributed to the religious-political environment rather than to religion itself.” He has given some rational and pluralistic perspectives claiming that “where the state allows religious diversity, does not squelch religion, and does not favor one religion over another. Violence is rare and limited to isolated individuals” (Innaccone 1997).  So, violence doesn’t come with parameters or fixed labels.  Karen Armstrong has done some pretty original work on religion in the modern world. Her views and writings about religion and fundamentalism has always been appreciated globally. She says that religion is a “purely private pursuit” which should be specially separated from politics. Because history knows violence and warfare has always been a mouthpiece of politics.

Mainly, the scholar claims that fanatical bigotry can be checked if the state handles religion and politics as two different entities. Theocracy is never a solution.  Which mainly leads us to different resolution approach “pluralism”. Lately, the analysis of pluralism, has become a very important topic along with the analysis of violence and extremism. Pluralism in societies or one may say religious societies doesn’t mean to eradicate the differences or smooth things up under one canopy. Pluralism specifically means to reinvent the ways of living, arguing, connecting and disagreeing in a society of differences and inequality. It’s always dangerous to keep discussing and complicating the “religious identities”and “religious violence” which often derail our understandings about the concept of pluralistic societies.

Religion is everywhere. Amartya Sen claims in his book Identity and Violence that “Religion is enmeshed in economics, politics, class, race, and education. National, communal, and individual identities are plural and complex” These identities should be respected and accepted. They shouldn’t intersect. When we prioritize one identity over the other, specifically when we start to gauge everything with the measurement scale of fanaticism and bigotry we lose tolerance and it becomes a source of violence. The world in literal view would never fall into clash through coalitions of different religions. As a matter of fact, the concept of pluralism is centrally about the celebration of diversity around communities and societies. Scholars around the globe need to investigate the creative and polished ways to investigate and construe the multi-religious relationships.

Just as an example, couple of years ago. Citizens of Louisville, KY organized a festival of faith. A weeklong event to understand and highlight religious communities. It included art performances and a passport to visit one another’s places of worship to learn more about them. Such festivals of faith endorse the concept of respect and acceptance for other religions. Such ideas should replicate around the globe.

In short, pluralism or religious pluralism not only endorses tolerance but cooperation. It gives an individual a strong sense of freedom and self-confidence. In simple words, toleration assists to create a more possible forms of active collaborations. There should be a new policy. A new ideology of “we”,which could bring together all citizens of all religion – to work against all odds, to dissolve all the contradictions and discrimination of society. Such people would be the defenders of pluralism and much respectful to the different choices, reasons and identities of others.

There should be a revolution of “trust” to stop the wave of fear. We need to study the shifting paradigms and dynamics of circumstances blistering out of religious conflicts in this “fast paced world” of globalization. It needs new pluralistic thinkers of new generation. New rational and critical scholars who could teach and write about the much needed issues and create enlightenment,which may lead to rationality among the public. A well informed public always make a strong nation, which may help in creating tolerant societies.

The much needed pluralism is necessary to bridge the gaps between different cultures and religious worlds. The biggest challenge we are facing is to develop a shared understandings and wisdom to overrule the ideological differences,which could lead to sustained development and a pluralistic world. This is not a light and dark world, where a person remains unaware about the existence of other person. This should not happen. Existence of every other person should be respected.

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